At first Jay-Z insisted he didn't want a party for his new album. Then, about a week and a half ago, one of the world's biggest-selling rappers suddenly changed his mind, and by last Wednesday night his people had made it happen: rented New York City's Irving Plaza nightclub; lined up a deejay and background vocalists for Jay-Z's performance; printed up personalized tickets for such guests as Puffy Combs, Busta Rhymes, Eve, Russell Simmons and Lil' Kim. Great party. The host, in baggy jeans, Phat Farm shirt and a blinding diamond necklace, did snippets of some slamming songs from the album "Vol. 3--The Life and Times of Shawn Carter" (his real name), to be released on Dec. 28, and the beats bumped loud enough to rattle the champagne glasses. "There was no commotion, and the performance was off the hook," recalls the rapper Juvenile. But there was this one thing. Damon Dash, co-owner of Jay-Z's Roc-a-Fella Records, grabbed the mike, yelled "F--k the bootleggers" and exhorted the crowd to raise a collective finger. "It was an odd moment," says one guest. "It sort of came out of nowhere."
At least one member of the hip-hop aristocracy hadn't been invited: Lance (Un) Rivera, head of Untertainment Records, whose big star is the platinum-selling Lil' Kim. Rap insiders say he's not everybody's favorite guy, and his luck seemed to be turning bad. A distribution deal with Epic Records was falling apart, and Lil' Kim's much-anticipated second album kept getting delayed. "He was definitely struggling to get things done," says one source. "You could say times were hard." Still, since Un coproduced one track on Jay-Z's new album, his omission from the guest list looked curious. Insiders, though, suspected there was bad blood between them. Some believe Un felt threatened by Jay-Z's success. "Everybody is caught up in the hype of Jay-Z," Un said in a recent NEWSWEEK interview. "The music business says that if you aren't selling 500,000 copies the first week, then you're a failure." And Jay-Z, sources say, suspected Un or his associates of sabotaging his CD's release by leaking an unfinished bootleg tape to New York radio stations.
When the Jay-Z party broke up, around midnight, a caravan of SUVs rolled uptown to a party at the Kit Kat Club near Times Square celebrating the release of Q-Tip's new album, and there Jay-Z and Un came face to face. "It was clear something was about to go down," a female rapper who was in the posse told NEWSWEEK, "because J's attitude totally changed when he saw Un. They started arguing, and I know these guys all too well--I got the hell out of the way." What happened next will get straightened out--if it ever does--in court. One newspaper account says that Jay-Z delivered a line straight out of "The Godfather Part 2"--"Lance, you broke my heart"--pulled a knife and stabbed him. Another eyewitness, a famous East Coast rapper who's a close friend of Jay-Z's, told NEWSWEEK this story: "Jay-Z approached him, they had a few words, they became loud, and then this big commotion began. One guy I couldn't see hit Un with a bottle and then Jay-Z pushed something in his back and in his stomach, and Un began to sort of bend over and people started yelling. …